By Wendy Hobday Haugh
Imagine a restaurant that recycles its glass, cans, and paper products, uses biodegradable take-out containers, purchases all its green produce locally, composts every kitchen scrap imaginable, serves only fair-trade coffee and made-from-scratch, cooked-to-order food, uses no trans fats or chemical additives, delivers its customers’ plate-waste to families with pet pigs, gives its leftover bread to folks raising chickens, changes its cooking oil frequently, and donates its discarded oil to a local man who processes it and uses it as fuel – to power to his car!
If you’re thinking a place like this only exists in a galaxy far, far away, think again because it’s all happening right here, right now, at Fifty South in Ballston Spa, NY.
Chef Kim Klopstock, owner of Fifty South, runs her restaurant like she runs her home: in an ecologically responsible manner. To many, her modus operandi may seem nothing short of extraordinary. But to Kim, being a good steward and doing what she can to care for the earth is a no-brainer. She just wishes more people would take up the cause in earnest.
“I’ve been recycling at home for the past thirty years,” Kim reflects, “so it’s important to me that my restaurant recycles as well. If you take away from the amount of refuse that you have to pay to have removed, you’re doing something good for the environment – and it makes economic sense. All this talk today about ‘going green’ is great but the truth is, the concepts have been around for a long time.” When asked her opinion about New York State’s failure to require restaurants to recycle, Kim grimaces: “Shame on us.”
Always researching alternative ways of living and eating, Kim learned about biodynamic farming and the principles of creating sustainable farms and gardens years ago when her two daughters attended the Waldorf School in Saratoga Springs. “I learned about the importance of taking care of the earth, of replenishing the soil . . .about the importance of the seasons and of eating foods of the season.”
Today, given the plethora of foods available year-round in grocery stores, Kim acknowledges that most people aren’t going to stick with seasonal, local foods. But she’d like to see more consumers think before purchasing foods from other countries where farming practices are questionable and farm worker conditions, inhumane. It costs more for Kim to purchase her restaurant’s coffee and sugar from fair trade companies. But in her mind, it is money well spent to guarantee quality product and quality of life for workers.
Although Fifty South opened its doors less than two years ago, Kim Klopstock has been operating her own highly successful catering business, The Lily & The Rose, since 1994. Her decision to purchase the Ballston Spa eatery (known for decades as Leo’s Diner) was made the minute she saw its three kitchens. Finally, she’d found a place spacious enough to accommodate the needs of both her catering business and a restaurant.
Kim’s vision for Fifty South can be summed up in F-words: fun, friendly, family-oriented, financially feasible, and food – the very best around. “My catering business is work,” Kim explains, “and my restaurant is all about fun. I keep my menu prices reasonable. I mean, if you’re going to do fair trade, you better do fair trade for your guests as well! I try to keep the margin as close as possible so that my restaurant is affordable to as many people as possible.”
Fifty South is a work-in-progress, continually evolving. “Twenty-five years ago, I got kicked out of a restaurant because I was nursing,” Kim says, still rankled by the memory. “My restaurant will always, always stand for children, old people, for people who have special needs, for tolerance . . . for all of humanity.”
An artist by nature, and an alumnus of Skidmore’s sculpture and pottery program, Kim credits the rise of her kitchen artistry to her upbringing. “Mostly I got into cooking because I loved to entertain. My family did a tremendous amount of entertaining with old-world charm . . . always with a variety of people, always a beautiful table, and always delicious homegrown foods.” Her family frequently traveled around the world, so Kim was exposed early on to many different cultures and many exotic foods.
Not surprisingly, the menu at Fifty South is marked by diversity, including vegan, vegetarian, organic, and biodynamically-farmed foods as well as top-notch burgers and freshly-breaded chicken fingers. The menu itself is a fascinating read. Highly-detailed, it gives credit to the creators of many distinctive dishes: KK’s Favorite, for example (an omelet made with chevre, caramelized onions, spinach, and roasted peppers) or Sierra’s poached pear salad. At Fifty South, diners can count on fresh foods, freshly-prepared and cooked-to-order. Everything – salad dressings, soups, mac ‘n cheese – is homemade on site, using top quality foods from local purveyors and seasonally fresh organic produce whenever possible.
Kim is detail-driven in both her restaurant and her catering business. “The little things mean a lot,” she insists, “and make a big difference. What some people don’t understand is, how you treat everything effects everything. Take cooking oil. We change the oil regularly in our kitchen, and we strain it regularly as well. Oil is hugely expensive these days, but it makes or breaks the food that you’re serving. And it’s stupid not to strain it because it ruins your equipment! If I don’t strain my fryer, it makes my fryer work harder, effects the quality of my food and the life of my fryer. So it makes sense to be fastidious. It may be more expensive in the day to day operations, but in the long run, it is far better.”
Fifty South is worth a trip from anywhere. Kim Klopstock is forever tinkering with her restaurant, thinking up new ideas and implementing them for fun . . . just because she can. Some things work, others don’t, but that’s okay. With Kim, it’s all about the possibilities. On top of great food served in a bright and cheerful setting, Fifty South offers art exhibits, cooking classes, wine-tasting, dance lessons, a community table (commonplace in Europe), and a Gold Room for private parties and special occasions.
“Please allow Fifty South to be your place to meet, eat and greet new and old friends as well as family,” Kim writes on her website. “Open your taste buds, think outside the box, and join us on this great adventure.”
Fifty South is located at 2128 Doubleday Avenue (Route 50), just north of Ballston Spa.
For more info, call (518) 884-2926 or visit www.fiftysouth.com.